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Contender round awaits

Steve Mickey

Steve Mickey

When the checkered flag waved Sunday signaling the end of the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, four drivers were eliminated and the remaining 12 realized that the level of competition for the next round of three races suddenly got tougher. Those moving on now find themselves in a field of drivers who have dominated the series for the bulk of the season.

A.J. Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola were eliminated after the final race of the Challenger Round, leaving a field of a dozen drivers that account for 26 victories on the season. So after 29 races this season, the dozen now move on to races at Kansas Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway that will make up the Contender round.

Unlike the Challenger Round that began with drivers who had posted a win being awarded bonus points, all drivers will have their points reset to 3,000 points. The four drivers that were eliminated from the Chase will have their points reset to 2,000 with which they began the Chase, plus they will receive bonus points for any wins that they have posted on the season and the points accumulated through the first three weeks.

While winning is still the surest way of ensuring that you will move on in the Chase, Sunday’s results revealed that it may be more about just surviving and moving on. Kasey Kahne appeared to be out of contention of moving on to the next round when he found himself four laps down because of a loose left rear wheel that cost him two laps and a green flag stop that would also cost him two laps.

Kahne kept digging and received a wave- around plus a caution flag at just the right time to find himself just a lap down in the closing laps of the race and was able to finish 20th. Allmendinger, who was also a lap down, finished 23rd, leaving him two points behind Kahne in the final transfer spot to the Contender Round.

It all begins again this weekend at Kansas as only one driver will lock his spot in the third round, leaving the remaining 11 having to position themselves at the end of the race to collect as many points as possible. The just completed round found five drivers finishing within 5 points of the 12th position, showing just how valuable each point can be over the next three races.

Drivers and crew chiefs will still be willing to gamble to collect a win and move on, but they will also have to have an eye on the points as the field of eight that will move on to the third round will be made up by at least five drivers on where they are in the points. There is no substitute for winning, but as we get deeper and deeper into the Chase, the consistency of top-5 and to-10 finishes will still give a driver the opportunity to move on and take another step closer to the title.

PIT NOTES: NASCAR announced the changes that it will be implementing for the 2015 season last week, including a new testing policy. Beginning next year there will be a NASCAR-mandated ban on all team-initiated private testing. Any team caught testing on its own carries a loss of 150 points, a minimum of $150,000 fine and a six-week suspension for the crew chief. Teams will be invited to participate in NASCAR/Goodyear tests. Maybe the biggest change comes in the announcement that NASCAR will not hold its annual test at Daytona International Speedway in January prior to the running of the Daytona 500. That test was always the unofficial start of the new season as it was the first time that all of the cars were back on the track and was also used as an event for the fans and media to have access to the drivers prior to the start of the new season. NASCAR now plans to send drivers on a cross-country promotional tour early next year to create excitement for the upcoming season.

Race Review

Event: Hollywood Casino 400

Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5-mile D-shaped oval, variable banking 170-200 in the turns)

Date: October 5, 2 p.m.

Radio: MRN


Defending Champion: Kevin Harvick

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